Kieran McGeeney had no truck with relegation after seeing his Armagh side slip into the second tier of the Allianz League on the back of this loss in Omagh and Monaghan’s latest Houdini impression in Castlebar.
Few teams can have had a campaign like it. Armagh won two, drew another and lost four. The end margin in all of those encounters was never more than three points. He rued their inability to squeeze more juice from the ones that got away but, ultimately, this is a pragmatic man.
“There are fine margins and you have to be on the right side of them,” he said.
This one was as tight as any of them with Tyrone and Armagh drawing level eleven times. Stalemate would have suited both of them just fine – Tyrone were not mathematically safe come throw-in - but the hosts pulled away to score five points to two in the last 15 minutes.
Agonising. Armagh were mathematically in the relegation zone at half-time, dragged themselves out of it in the second-half, and then fell back into it as the afternoon wore on and Monaghan and Mayo aped events in Healy Park with their own up-and-down affair.
McGeeney found himself pondering the silly errors his side made, the wides and the balls dropped short and the passes gone astray. He pointed to the absence of maybe six players – Rian O’Neill among them – and suggested maybe there was something in that. Little tweaks needed for a team that he feels isn’t far away.
Ultimately, though, he’s in this business long enough – eight years and counting with Armagh alone - to know that the buck stops in the same place regardless of the outcome. In fairness to a man who doesn’t often meet the media, he fronted up on the worst of days and even declared that he had “let them down”.
“I do the tactics, I take the training, I do all the stuff,” he explained. “They’re a good bunch, they give me whatever they can and they push hard. Wee things go against you – losing Andrew (Murnin to injury in the first-half) and Rian…
“Mind you, listening to the rumours, me and Rian must have had a great fight during the week because I have a black eye and he can’t play. Those sorts of things go against you but we’re still good enough to do it on the day and the right call here can make a difference.”
He smiled on mentioning O’Neill’s name. McGeeney isn’t on social media but word gets around so he knew all the rumours: that the pair had fallen out over tactics, that O’Neill had left for Australia, that this thing was irreparable between them.
Not true, he said. Any of it. O’Neill was at the ground on Sunday but didn’t tog out. A nick to the quad, McGeeney claimed, and his declared expectation is that the talismanic forward might even be fit enough for the Ulster Championship tie against Antrim in a few weeks’ time.
The talk about Armagh’s tactics was put to him too. The conversation this last few weeks is that they have regressed from a side that wanted to re-inject an attacking flair into the game to one that has retreated into hedgehog mode. Pundits have been scratching their heads as to why.
All of this prompted another smile from the Armagh boss. His take? What choice do Armagh have when teams play 14 men back? What choice do they have, he asked, but to try and match it? Nobody, he said, wants to play open football against them.
“They don’t score that much more than us but nobody wants to play open football against you. A few teams tried it last year and they know we’re good at that so they’re not going to give you that type of space.”
For what it’s worth, this was a very good Armagh performance for maybe 59 minutes. They defended in numbers and ceded plenty of possession and territory to Tyrone but they allied it with an ability to make a dent at the far end.
Conor Turbitt came in for O’Neill and claimed five points, two from play, while Stefan Campbell put in an explosive second-half that included three points and went some way to negating the loss of Murnin so early.
A case of give-a-dog-a-bad-name, then?
“Och, last year we were too gung-ho and that was costing us: this year we’re defensive. One week the coach is doing a brilliant job, the next week I’m doing a useless job because I’m a bollocks.
“You just have to learn to live with those things because it’s part and parcel of sport. You’re going to have a lot of people with opinions and, rightly or wrongly, they’re entitled to them when they watch the game.”
D McCurry (0-7, 4f); P Harte (0-3); C Kilpatrick and R McNamee (both 0-2): P Hampsey, M Donnelly, D Canavan, M McGleenan (all 0-1).
C Turbitt (0-5, 2f and 1 mark); S Campbell (0-3): A Forker and R Grugan (both 0-2): C Cumiskey, J Hall, J Kiernan (all 0-1); N Grimley (0-1f).
B Gallen; M McKernan, P Hampsey, C Quinn; C Meyler, R McNamee, P Harte; B Kennedy, C Kilpatrick; F Burns, K McGeary, J Oguz; D McCurry, M Donnelly, D Canavan.
D Mulgrew for McGeary (47); M McGleenan for Canavan (48): N Sludden for Harte (74).
E Rafferty; B McCambridge, A McKay, A Forker; C Mackin, G McCabe, J Og Burns; S Campbell, N Grimley; C Cumiskey, R Grugan, J Hall; C Turbitt, A Murninm J Duffy.
A Nugent for Murnin (24); T Kelly for Duffy (48); J Kiernan for Hall (63); C McConville for Cumiskey (71); S McPartland for Turbitt (72).
B Cassidy (Derry).